The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Apparently Leaving Your Children In Care Equates to ‘Child Abuse’

Posted by hannahcolman on September 3, 2008

An article published in Monday’s The Age about working mothers putting their children into care at a young age opens a rather large can of worms. According to the article, children’s author Mem Fox has compared putting children into care with child abuse. Fox’s comments have unsurprisingly sparked some anger from working mothers.

The founder and director of CareerMums, Kate Sykes, attacked Fox’s comments as “irresponsible”, saying there were some “really good child care centres” that were doing a “huge amount” for children.

As any mother will attest, the decision for a new mother to return to work or stay at home with their child is a complicated one. Sykes continues:

“Over 65 per cent of families have both parents working and … for a lot of people it’s not about choice, it’s because they have to,” she said. “They both have to be earning money to pay off the mortgage.”

For the record, the article plays out Fox’s comments like so:

Fox, the author of 35 books, is reported to have said society would look back on the trend of putting infants in child care and wonder “how could we have allowed that child abuse to happen”.

“I don’t know why some people have children at all if they know that they can only take a few weeks off work,” she said.

Assuming Fox hasn’t been misquoted, I take issue with her musings on a couple of levels. Firstly, I think it is completely unfair and inappropriate for anyone to be making judgements on women re-entering the workforce after having children. I imagine that for many mothers, it is a difficult decision and there is a large amount of guilt involved in leaving their child in someone else’s care. For others, returning to work is the natural choice and allows them to regain some balance in their life. 

What worries me more, though, is the fact that Fox’s comment is another occurence of the term ‘child abuse’ being bandied about. Casually dropping the words ‘child abuse’ (or deliberately using them to be inflammatory) without recognising the implications of their misuse is irresponsible. It also does a great disservice to those who are out there trying to combat the problem and raise awareness about actual abuse. (See Stop Child Abuse or Child Abuse Protection).

I’m interested to hear what working mothers, or non-working mothers (or any people with brains, really) have to say about this.


5 Responses to “Apparently Leaving Your Children In Care Equates to ‘Child Abuse’”

  1. Scal said

    Some sociologists are saying that long-term (like, eight hours per day, five days a week) child-care for children under the age of 3 is akin to abuse. Little children need constant, focussed (not necessaily one-on-one, but at least personalised) attention for their developmental and emotional needs to be met.

    Many childcare centres focus on keeping children merely “safe” rather than stimulated and cared for. If you’re having a baby and then placing it, full-time, in a place where it can just be put in a cot to cry all day – well, that kind of IS abuse!

    Obvs not all child-care centres are like that, but many are. A lecturer (in early childhood development) once told me the story about turning up to a child-care centre half an hour early to collect her (two year old) daughter, and her daughter was standing silently in her cot, just watching the clock. Her impression was that the child knew when to expect to be collected, and was entirely focussed on just seeing-out the time.

    That’s kind of horrific.

    I’m sure many mothers will criticise this comment, and it’s likely my view will change when I have children myself, but my god I hope I can afford a nanny if I choose to go back to work when my kids are babies.

  2. Bri said

    As a mother and as a mother who has worked part time and full time, I personally don’t agree with having a small child in care dawn to dusk, 5 days a week. That said, I also don’t think it is my place to judge other people and what they do. I just hope (for the sake of the children involved) that parents that do use full time time care carefully vet the centres they use and that they spend quality time with their children the rest of the time. I think most parents do the best they can with what they have. But some people also need to reevaluate their priorities, some people, not all. Most people are doing it hard and wouldn’t have their kids in care full time if they didn’t feel they had to. I also think that part time care can be good for children (ie one or a couple of days a week) especially if there are no other small children at home with them.

  3. tina_sparkle said

    wow! is mem fox offering to make my share of the mortgage repayments when I have kids and don’t want to go back to work? because that’s the only way I’ll be able to afford to.

    implying that most childcare centres are akin to the modern equivalent of victorian workhouses doesn’t fix the problem. a woman may have expectations that her baby/toddler will receive a certain level of attention in care and those expectations aren’t met. ring your local council and ask about the waiting lists for childcare. oftentimes when a child is offered a place many families grab it without a moment’s hesitation. in the current economic climate many families have no other financial alternative than to put their child in care. perhaps ms fox should stop criticising working mothers and direct her hostility towards the reserve bank?

    instead of labelling every contentious issue regarding children’s welfare as ‘abuse’, it could be better said that depending on the circumstances, some children may thrive in care while others may not. but in child protection terms, it is certainly not ‘abuse’. kids all cope differently with being in care.

    scal, does this mean you don’t agree with controlled crying? I’m using this as an example because even if a mother is home with her child, and she’s using this technique, it involves leaving the child alone to cry.

    personally, I wouldn’t put an infant in full time care if I could help it, however I’m all for childcare as a child gets older. my family lives 4 hours away and my partner’s family live overseas so this drastically reduces our opportunities to have our child cared for by family members. I think it’s important for people to keep in mind that it’s not as simple as ‘just stay home, it’s better for the kids’. I know my bank manager wouldn’t give two hoots.

  4. sim said

    tina, scal’s key words were “all day”. Controlled crying doesn’t mean leaving the child to cry all day.

  5. hannahcolman said

    Today I was directed to Mem Fox’s website —

    The article I referenced misquoted Mem, as did many others at the time she made the comments.

    From her website –
    “I was simply quoting the owner of a brilliant child care facility in Queensland, who said to me last year: ’Mem, when we look back at the quality of child-care for babies at this time in our history, with the terrible ratios of carers-to-children we currently have, people are going ask us how we allowed such child abuse to happen.’ ”

    Just thought I should clarify.

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